UPDATE: A Research Guide to the Turkmenistan Legal System

By Oleg Stalbovskiy & Maria Stalbovskaya
Update by Mirfozil Khasanov

Mirfozil (Fazil) Khasanov worked for US and international human rights and humanitarian organizations in education, training and torture prevention projects. He co-authored articles on civil society development in Uzbekistan and was responsible for the project of official translation of international humanitarian law instruments into Uzbek.

Published November/December 2017
(Previously updated by Oleg Stalbovskiy & Maria Stalbovskaya in November/December 2008; and by Aylar Mamiyeva & Mirfozil Khasanov in March 2014)
See the Archive Version!

1. Introduction

Turkmenistan is a unitary state in the southwest of Central Asia, bounded by the Caspian Sea to the west, Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the east, and Iran and Afghanistan to the south. Turkmenistan covers approximately 488,000 square kilometers and has a population of 6,000,000. Ashkhabad (Ashgabat) is its capital and the largest city with a population of 900,000. The state language is Turkmen. The Turkmens, who are largely Sunni Muslims, comprise more than 85% of the population. The remainder of the population are Uzbeks (5%) and Russians (7%), as well as smaller groups of Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, and Armenians.

Turkmenistan was once part of the ancient Persian Empire, when the territory was ruled by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century. The Mongols of Genghis Khan conquered the land in the 13th century and dominated the area for the next two centuries, until they were deposed in the late 15th century by invading Uzbeks. In 1869, an area of Turkmenistan known as the khanate of Khiva was made part of the Russian Empire, and became known as the Transcaspian Oblast of Russian Turkestan. Modern Turkmenistan was formed out of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, founded in 1918, and was made an independent Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, known as Turkmenia, on October 27, 1924.

Turkmenistan declared its sovereignty on October 27, 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union; along with ten other former Soviet Republics, Turkmenistan also became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Turkmenistan consists of several types of territorial-administrative units in which national governmental organs form, such as provinces (velayat), districts (etrap), and certain cities which are equivalent to districts. There are also towns, villages, and settlements in which local organs of self-government are founded.

According to Article 1 of the Constitution, Turkmenistan is a democratic secular state operating under the rule of law, whose government takes the form of a presidential republic.

2. Legal System of Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan’s legal system is currently transitioning from Soviet law. Article 2 of the Constitution establishes the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan, citing the recognition of this status by the United Nations on 12 December 1995.

According to Article 4 of the Constitution, the highest value is placed on the individual by both the government and society. The government is responsible to the citizens for providing conditions for free development of individual personality, and commits to protect their life, honor, dignity, freedom, individual inviolability, and natural and inalienable rights of citizens.

2.1. A Hierarchy of Turkmenistan Laws

Turkmenistan is a civil law country in which the laws are hierarchically organized, with the Constitution of Turkmenistan at the top. The hierarchy of laws is as follows:

  1. The Constitution of Turkmenistan
  2. Constitutional laws
  3. Ordinary laws and Codes
  4. Decrees and acts of the President, Resolutions of the Mejlis
  5. Resolutions and orders of the Cabinet of Ministers
  6. Normative acts of the organs of state power and government
  7. Resolutions of the hyakims
  8. Decisions of local meetings (gengeshi)

2.2. Constitution of Turkmenistan

The Constitution of Turkmenistan was approved on 18 May 1992 amended in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2008.

One of the primary changes to the Constitution was the extension of the office of President from five to seven years, and the abolition of the Halk Maslahaty, or People's Council. This legislative body, whose 2,500 delegates approved important legislation and constitutional matters, transferred some of its powers to an elected 125-member parliament, the Mejlis, and others to the President. Now the President is responsible, for example, for appointing regional governors and mayors.

The present Constitution of Turkmenistan is the Supreme Law of the state, and the norms and provisions of the Constitution have direct effect. According to Article 140 of the Constitution, in the event of any conflict between laws, other legislation and the Constitution, the Constitution shall prevail. The legal acts of governmental organs are published for general notice or are made public in some other manner, except for legislation that contains state secretsor other legally protected information. Legal acts which affect the rights and freedoms of citizens, and for which there is no general notice, are not valid from the moment of their adoption.

2.3. Constitutional Laws

The next level in the hierarchy of laws in Turkmenistan includes Constitutional laws, which either amend and modify the Constitution or are established by the Constitution, such as laws regarding independence, fundamental principles of the state and its organization. See for example: “On the permanent neutrality of Turkmenistan” (1995); The Constitution of Turkmenistan (approved by Khalk Maslahaty on Sept. 26, 2008) (WIPO); Turkmenistan Constitution 2008 (constitute.org); Bruce Pannier, Turkmenistan: President Orders Major Changes to Constitution, RadioFreeEurope (May 27, 2008).

2.4. Codified Laws

Currently, the laws of Turkmenistan are in the process of being codified. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and subsequent emergence of a fundamentally new compasses for society, politics and economics, the government has engaged in reforming the law and the legal system of the country. Currently, there are following codes:

2.5. Ordinary Laws

The next level includes current laws, constituting the bulk of legislation in Turkmenistan. Under the Soviet legal system, economic law-making was designated to the legislative branch of government, which regulated the economic activity of socialist enterprises. Legal norms which created economic laws were not codified in universal code. There is widespread belief that economic relations should be regulated by state.

According to Article 12 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, the right to property is inviolable. Turkmenistan affirms the right to own private property such as the means of production, land, and other material and intellectual property.

The role of the state in the regulation of all economic processes is very large (See, for example, the general list of ordinary lawsregulating business activity and related legal relationships.)

The lowest level of the legislative system is comprised of decrees and orders of government branches and divisions, such as decrees and acts of the President of Turkmenistan, resolutions of the Mejlis, resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers, normative acts of the organs of state power and government, resolutions of regional governors (hyakim), or decisions of local meetings (gengesh).

Some of the laws regulating business activity include the following:

3. The Principle of Separation of Powers

This principle establishes the distinction between representative, judicial and executive power in Turkmenistan. According to Article 66 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, the highest state power is exercised by the President, Parliament (Mejlis), the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, and the Supreme Court.

Article 6 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan states that the government is based on the principle of separation of powers into three branches: Legislative, Executive, and Judicial. Article 6 proclaims that all powers function independently, “balancing each other”.

3.1. Legislative Power

The Parliament, or Mejlis, is the highest representative body, and holds legislative power. It consists of 125 deputies, elected from territorial districts. According to Article 78 of the Constitution, deputies of the Parliament are elected for a term of five years.

According Article 81, the Mejlis is empowered to:

1) Adopt the Constitution and other laws and amendments thereto, and exercise control over their execution and interpretation;

2) Approve action plans of the Cabinet of Ministers;

3) Approve the budget of Turkmenistan and the report of its utilization;

4) Approve basic directions of the government's domestic and foreign policy activity, and programs for the economic and social development of the country;

5) Take decision on holding nation-wide referenda;

6) Determine the date of elections for the President, Parliament, and local self-government units and Gengeshes;

7) Decide, at the President’s proposal, questions regarding the appointment and displacement of the Chair of the Supreme Court, the General Procurator, Ministers of Interior Affairs and Adalat, or Justice;

8) Upon recommendation of the President of Turkmenistan, elect the Human Rights Ombudsman;

9) Establish state awards, present the President with state awards, and confer upon the President honorary titles, military ranks, and distinctions;

10) Determine whether the normative acts of the organs of state power and government are in accordance with the Constitution and other laws;

11) Ratify and/or denounce treaties concerning intergovernmental unions and other formations;

12) Alter state borders and administrative-territorial delineations;

13) Consider issues related to war and peace;

14) Deal with any other issues determined to be within the powers of Parliament by the Constitution and laws;

The nature of the powers of Parliament, its organs, and deputies, as well as those of its functions and powers not covered by the Constitution, are regulated by laws.

3.2. Executive Power

Executive power in Turkmenistan is divided between: the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, other ministries, and the local self-government units.

3.2.1. The President of Turkmenistan

Saparmurat Niyazov, officially referred to as Turkmenbashi (Father of Turkmens), led the country as president for 21 years, from 1985 to 2006. After his death on December 21, 2006, Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedow was named the new Turkmen leader on February 11, 2007. By the Constituion of 2016, the new length of the term in office of presidents, including Berdymuhammedow, is seven years.

According to Article 71 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan, the President of Turkmenistan is empowered to:

1) Enforce Constitutional and other laws;

2) Manage the implementation of foreign policy, represent Turkmenistan before the foreign governments, appoint and recall ambassadors and other diplomatic representatives of Turkmenistan in other countries and in intergovernmental and international organizations, and accept the credentials and departures of the diplomatic representatives of foreign governments;

3) Serve as the Supreme Commander- in-Chief of the Armed Forces, issue orders to begin general or partial mobilization, to place the Armed Forces in operational readiness and to use them;

4) Form and lead the Presidential Apparatus;

5) Approve the military doctrine of Turkmenistan;

6) Appoint and dismiss the top command of the Armed Forces, other forces and military units of Turkmenistan;

7) Form and lead the State Security Council of Turkmenistan;

8) Approve programs and the main directions of political, economic and social development of the country;

9) Present for review and approval to the Parliament the governmental budget and a report on its utilization;

10) Sign laws; he has the right not later than two weeks, using the right of the suspensive veto, to return the law with his objections in Mejlis for new discussion and re-vote. If not less than with two thirds of the Mejlis deputies confirm their previous decision, the President of Turkmenistan signs bill into law. The President of Turkmenistan doesn't have the right of the suspensive veto concerning laws on changes and additions in the Constitution;

11) Make annual state-of-the-nation address discussing the situation in the country and main domestic and foreign policy dimensions;

12) Form the Central Election and Referendum Commission;

13) Schedule referenda, and convene Parliament ahead of schedule;

14) Decide questions regarding the granting of Turkmenistan citizenship and asylum;

15) Bestow orders and other awards of Turkmenistan, confer honorary, military, and other special state titles, ranks, and distinctions;

16) With Parliament's consent, appoint and recall the Chair of the Supreme Court, and the General Procurator, Minister of Interior Affairs and Adalat Ministries;

17) Propose to the Mejlis a nomination for the Human Rights Ombudsman;

18) Grant pardons and amnesties;

19) Impose a state of emergency throughout or in parts of Turkmenistan in the interest of ensuring the safety of citizens. The emergency regime is regulated by appropriate laws of Turkmenistan;

20) Decide other issues ascribed to her or his jurisdiction by the Constitution and other laws.

The President issues decrees, resolutions, and orders, which have mandatory force across Turkmenistan. The President enjoys immunity. His dignity and honor are protected by law.

3.2.2 The Cabinet of Ministers

The Cabinet of Ministers is an executive and management body. The President chairs the Cabinet of Ministers. According to Article 92 of the Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers is appointed by the President within one month upon the latter’s taking of the office. The Cabinet of Ministers issues regulations and executive orders that have mandatory effect.

Based on Article 94 of the Turkmenistan Constitution, the Cabinet of Ministers is empowered to:

1) Organize the enactment of the laws of Turkmenistan, the legal acts of the President of Turkmenistan, and of the Mejlis of Turkmenistan;

2) Implement measures to secure and protect citizens’ rights and freedoms, and to safeguard property, public order, and national security;

3) Develop proposals regarding key areas of domestic and foreign policies of the state, as well as programs for the country’s economic and social development, which are then submitted to the Mejlis for review;

4) Ensure state management of economic and social development;

5) Organize management of state enterprises, organizations and institutions;

6) Secure rational use and protection of natural resources;

7) Take measures to strengthen the monetary and credit system;

8) Form committees, head offices and other agencies under the Cabinet of Ministers, if necessary;

9) Implement external economic activities and ensure the development of cultural ties with foreign states;

10) Manage the activities of government institutions, state enterprises and organizations, and may also repeal the decisions of ministers and other agencies, and local executive power bodies;

11) Decide other issues ascribed to her or his competence by laws and other regulations of Turkmenistan;

For more information regarding the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan, see State Information Agency of Turkmenistan.

3.2.3. Local Public Administration

Local representative bodies, or halk maslahatys, are available in each velayat, etrap and city with the authority of a velayat or etrap; their members are elected by citizens, according to Article 109 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan. Executive authority in velayats (provinces) is represented by the hyakims (“governor”) of velayats, in the cities by the hyakims of cities, in the etraps by the hyakims of etraps. The hyakims are appointed and dismissed by the President of Turkmenistan, and are accountable to him.

3.3. Judicial Power

Note: Turkmenistan does not have a Constitutional Court

Judicial power in Turkmenistan is vested in the courts only. The judicial power is intended to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens and the legally protected interests of the government and society. The judicial power is exercised by the Supreme Court, and other courts that might be established according to the legislation. The establishment of emergency courts and other structures endowed with the powers of a court is not allowed.

Judges are independent, they obey the Constitution and laws only. Interference by whichever party in their activities is prohibited, and punishable by law. The immunity of judges is guaranteed by law. Judges are appointed by the President. The manner of appointment and dismissal of judges is determined by law. Judges may not occupy any other paid position and get paid for it, unless it is teaching, writing and research positions.

4. Official Print Sources of Turkmenistan Law

Turkmenistan has a few official publishers in charge with the publication of laws and other legislative and governmental enactments.

4.1. Newspapers

4.2. Legal Мagazines

Мagazines that may from time to time publish legal acts:

4.3. Where to Find Laws, Decrees, and Cases

The State News Agency “Turkmenistan Today” has a section with updates on the government decisions in English. The Center of Legal Information under the Ministry of Adalat (Justice) of Turkmenistan maintains a website which offers the texts of legislation in Turkmen and Russian.

The Official Gazette and primary newspapers in the country are called “Turkmenistan” (Language: Turkmen), "Neitralnij Turkmenistan" (Language: Russian), and “Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin Metbugat Çapary.”

Former Halk Maslahaty decisions were published in "Turkmenistanyn Halk Maslahatynyn Maglumatlary." Law of Turkmenistan and Mejlis resolutions are issued in "Turkmenistanyn Mejlisinin Maglumatlary." Acts of the President and of the Cabinet of Ministers are issued in "Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin namalarynyn we Turkmenistanyn Hokumetinin cozgutlerinin Yygyndysy." Acts of ministries and other state bodies of Turkmenistan, including local governments, are published in “Turkmenistanyn ministrliklerinin, pudaklayyn dolandyrys edaralarynyn, welayatlaryn hakimlerinin, Asgabat saherinin hakiminin kadalasdyryjynamalarynyn Yygyndysy.”

Cases from the high courts should be available in the following publications: “Adalat,” “Neitralnij Turkmenistan,” and “Turkmenistanyn Prezidentinin Metbugat Çapary.” These cases should also be published by “Vedomosti Mejlisa” and “Sobraniye Aktov Prezidenta.”

The publishing house which issues legal publications is the state-run “Turkmenistanmetbugat,” the only publishing house in Turkmenistan which specializes in legal books.

5. Useful links

General country information can be found on the website of the Embassy of Turkmenistan in the UK.

Legal Information

Legal information in Russian and Turkmen: